05/08/2013 12:03 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2013

Is Your Body Image Getting in the Way of Your Sex Life?

If you've felt so self-conscious about your body that you've avoided sex, don't worry, you're not alone. Sex researchers note that the rising tide of "appearance anxiety" affects millions of women in the bedroom. The Journal of Sex Research declared that how a woman feels about her body has more of an impact on sexual functioning than even menopause. And with the Daily Mail's national survey showing that 52 percent of women have avoided or postponed sex, even when they were in the mood, because they were too self-conscious about their looks, the problem has come out of the closet.

How To Tell If Your Body Image Is Affecting Your Sex Life.
Much has been written about how and why women are increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies, but little has been said about how this dissatisfaction manifests itself across America's boudoirs. How can you tell if you've crossed from "normal" worrying about your looks to the kind of full-blown appearance anxiety that can flatten your sex life? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you turn the lights off during sex so your partner can't see your body?
  • Do you only get in certain positions that prevent your partner from looking at or touching certain parts of your body?
  • Are you too self-conscious about your body to enjoy sex?
  • Are you starting to put "conditions" on sex -- cover-up clothing, lights off, limiting yourself to positions that prevent your partner from seeing worrisome areas?
  • When your partner says he loves your body do you "know" he secretly wishes he were having sex with someone else?
  • Do you and your partner fight about the frequency and kind of sex you're having?
  • Do you think you'd have more sex and enjoy it more if you could just lose 10 pounds?
  • During sex do you find yourself thinking that your thighs are too big or that your stomach is sticking out too much?
  • Does it seem like you can't let go and enjoy yourself in bed because you're worried your body isn't good enough for your partner?

The Solutions To Bedroom Body Image Problems.
The good news is that there are solid solutions out there. It's possible for body conscious women to stop worrying about how they look and enjoy a vibrant sex life. It's possible to have sex without a running commentary in your mind about what your partner thinks about your body or panicking when he touches parts of your body you're uncomfortable with. And it doesn't involve diet, exercise or trying to improve your body image.

It starts with changing your relationship to the problem, understanding how to "crowd" out obsessive thoughts and learning sex techniques that reduce or eliminate appearance anxiety. For example, sex researchers note that women who considered themselves "good in bed" had a much better body image than women who didn't, even though they weighed the same. The take-away? Sexual competence creates body confidence. If you want to feel better about your body get better at lighting up your partner like a firecracker.

If appearance anxiety is getting the best of you in the bedroom, don't look at women's magazines for answers -- they'll just show you how to be more creative about hiding your perceived flaws. All that does is force you to pay more attention to your body, not less. Seek out books by body image experts like Thomas Cash. Help is out there; you just have to know how to find it.

Michael Alvear is the author of Not Tonight Dear, I Feel Fat: How To Stop Worrying About Your Body & Have Great Sex